Updates on life, the Kentucky Derby, and one of horse racing’s biggest issues

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written something here. There are a bunch of reasons for that, and a bunch of reasons why I’m putting this together.

My “new” job

As you probably know, I’m back in the gambling industry on a full-time basis. A bit more than three years after The Daily Racing Form saw me as surplus to requirements, I’ve latched on at Catena Media as a Content Manager. They’re an affiliate marketing company in the space, and I’m having a blast wearing many hats.

Since coming on board in January, I’ve assumed a leadership role with several sites in the company’s “play” network. Each state gets a site, and the ones in my bucket are California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ohio. I’m managing a fantastic team and working with people who are insanely passionate and spectacular at what they do. It’s been a fun few months, and it feels good to be back.

In addition to managing those sites, I’ve also started producing plenty of horse racing content for Playfecta, the company’s resident racing page. This includes betting strategies and looks at Kentucky Derby prep races.

Catena’s also been wonderful about allowing me to freelance for non-competitors. You may have seen my Derby Bubble column for the fine folks at The Paulick Report, and, predictably, the one thing I insisted on prior to coming aboard was an ability to continue my role with The Pink Sheet each summer for as long as they’ll have me. They were fantastic about this, so my summer Saratoga coverage remains unchanged.

If I may be allowed a quick detour into “wrestling promo” mode: This means that your reigning, defending, undisputed Saratoga all-media handicapping champion will be back this July to defend his title. If you don’t like it, play along for 40 days, publish your picks, and beat me. Contrary to what some may like to believe, if you do that, I’ll be the first in line to shake your hand, say “good game,” and mean it.

All of my Kentucky Derby stuff

I figured it would be handy to have a one-stop shop with links to all of my content focused on Kentucky Derby Week. The below list includes written articles, podcasts, and videos, and if you’re curious about how I see things over the next few days at Churchill Downs, these are what you’ll want to dive into.

FRIDAY

SATURDAY

Horse racing has a problem

Earlier this week, the plight of a young woman in racing got my attention. Mary Cage chronicled what went into an excruciating decision to leave the game she loved. Her explanation was raw and honest, and what some interpreted as “millennial softness” was, in actuality, a much-needed dose of humanity.

I related to this right away. When I feel something, I feel it more intensely than most. That’s a quality horse racing doesn’t have much use for. My career almost ended before it really got started due to a situation where that came into play (we’re getting closer to when I can feel comfortable telling that story publicly, but we’re not there yet). It played a role in why I left TVG, despite 99.9% of people I worked with/for being outstanding professionals and people (I spent most of an afternoon with several of them last weekend at Golden Gate Fields!).

When Mary talked about the issues she faced, it hit home. My challenges were different, but rooted in a lot of the same concepts. I bent over backwards to help a variety of companies and people. I wore many hats, I worked long hours, and I was ultimately deemed expendable by a machine that seems to take pride in chewing up and spitting out those who care about maintaining it.

Predictably, while Mary got plenty of support from some of the industry’s best people, she was dragged by some of the worst. Not everyone is going to agree on everything, and that’s fine. Some of the attacks got personal, though, with insinuations made that she lacked a proper work ethic or other qualities commenters deemed necessary for success in racing.

At the same time this was going on, a company came out with the first of several “explosive videos” designed to lobby for causes and people in racing. Predictably, the name “Bob Baffert” was dropped four seconds into the video, which aimed to pit Baffert’s camp of loyalists against Churchill Downs and its backers.

This is going to sound harsh, and perhaps the firm has better ideas up its sleeve moving forward. Having said that, after seeing the nonsense Mary had to deal with (as well as stories of other young people in racing being forced to question the longevity of their careers)…I really don’t care about what happens to Bob Baffert anymore.

Racing is the only billion-dollar industry I’ve discovered where passion to make things better, and ideas that require short-term sacrifice for long-term gains across the board, are frequently frowned upon. People like Mary shouldn’t be chased out of the industry. They want to work, and they want to make things better. Instead of deciding they’re expendable, give them all the work they want, and get out of the way while they do it.

We can go on and on about things like Baffert, trainers, breeding, and any number of issues. Contrary to the belief of some of the trolls out there, I welcome respectful disagreement on all topics (it’s the “respectful” part that’s often a bridge too far, I’ve found).

Here’s a much more important thought to ponder, though: If we’re turning away people who actively want to have long, sustained careers in racing, what chance do we have to attract those who are indifferent about the sport? Furthermore, what chance do we have to change the minds of those who have decided they don’t like it?

Look up at the amount of content I’ve produced for two days of racing, on top of my normal, 40-hour job. In addition, I’m writing this at almost 11 pm Pacific time on Thursday, May 5. Tomorrow is Kentucky Oaks Day, with a 7:30 am first post. I’ll be up for all 13 races, from maiden claimers to the main event, and I’ll be ready to do it again for 14 more races Saturday, including the sport’s biggest one.

All of this is my contribution to the game. I’m a handicapper and content creator. I write and produce things for people to enjoy, with the hopes that some of it helps people make money. It’s why I enjoyed last year’s Kentucky Derby so much. My show (which included a special appearance from my father) gave out $30 in tickets that returned more than $1,000. As hokey as it sounds, buying him and my girlfriend a nice dinner after the races is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. If my analysis and insight helped give someone else a moment like that, even better.

I love horse racing.

There are times I wish horse racing loved itself.

Medina Spirit, One Handicapper’s Peaks and Valleys, and Horse Racing’s Next Steps

It was 8:38 am when I got the text message.

I had just gotten out of bed and was getting ready for work. My phone vibrated with news that Medina Spirit had died following a five-furlong drill at Santa Anita.

I almost went back to bed.

I’m not a vet, I’m not an expert on the structure of the American thoroughbred, and I’m not here to bash certain people within the game just because it’s the fun, trendy thing to do. I’m a fan, handicapper, and content producer that’s had, simultaneously, the best and most chaotic year of my life betting on and talking about horses.

Medina Spirit is a big reason for that. Sent away at 13-1 in the Kentucky Derby, he was left alone on the lead when Rock Your World didn’t break. Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality came up to challenge him, but Medina Spirit refused to yield, got home, and triggered a celebration in my Northern California apartment that was probably audible up and down the West Coast.

We know the rest of the story. He tested positive for a banned substance, and a lengthy legal battle has outlived its subject. After his death, we still don’t know if we can call Medina Spirit the official Kentucky Derby winner. He won a few races, was ridden for second behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and may very well win Champion 3-Year-Old Male honors at the Eclipse Awards.

On its own, Medina Spirit’s death would be bad enough. A high-profile Bob Baffert trainee dying of an apparent heart attack after a workout, while the subject of a lengthy drug investigation, is reason enough to cringe. However, it’s the latest blow to a sport that’s been crippled lately by one public relations disaster after another over the past few years.

Santa Anita was put through the ringer in 2019, when a series of breakdowns caused an avalanche of bad press (including an astoundingly tone-deaf one-liner on the ABC show “Black-ish”) and forced significant changes to the racing product. I worked at Santa Anita for a year and a half. It’s a cathedral with fantastic people steering the ship and making the engine go. They’re back racing down the hill, and the surface is far safer than it was nearly three years ago.

Good luck, however, telling that to people whose exposure to Santa Anita comes in the form of blurbs on the ESPN “Bottom Line” talking about breakdowns and deaths rather than consuming the product on a regular basis.

Medina Spirit’s win in the Kentucky Derby triggered legal activity from all corners of the racing world. After news of the positive test made national headlines, some handicappers felt cheated enough to file a lawsuit against Churchill Downs, demanding that bettors who were beaten by a drugged horse be properly reimbursed.

Speaking of bettors, there’s no other way to explain what happened on the first day of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup than three simple words: They got hosed. Modern Games was let through a starting gate prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. In a sea of confusion, he was scratched, then un-scratched, then announced as running for purse money only. The talented Charles Appleby runner won as much the best, because of course he did, and the reaction from the Del Mar grandstand was a thunderous chorus of boos, one that I’ve never heard at a track before and don’t plan on ever hearing again.

As a sport, where are we on controlling the narrative that reaches novices and those who have never been to the track before? Where are we on a response that reassures the racing fanbase that the racetrack is still a fun place to go, and that one’s gambling dollar is more respected there than at a blackjack table, a slot machine, or a daily fantasy sports provider? How is it possible that a sport with many incredibly wealthy, smart people at the top level can be playing defense this much?

– – – – –

I can’t address those questions without a look at where I’m at. I don’t work in horse racing full-time anymore. I’ve been out of the business for three years, ever since I was a casualty of budget cuts at The Daily Racing Form. To some, that’s a very good thing, and to others, I’m no different from other ignorant washouts who like to toot their own horn.

Those people don’t know me. By and large, they know the silly guy who posts professional wrestling memes and fires up Ric Flair’s promo from the 1992 Royal Rumble when he wins. News flash: If any of you, and I mean ANY OF YOU, take that stuff seriously and think that’s a true indication of how much I think I matter, re-evaluate your life choices and check your rear end for a stick.

If you took this seriously…really???

What people other than my family and closest friends don’t see is the time I spend, on top of a full-time job, creating written and video content with the intensity of someone who still does it on a full-time basis. I’m probably the only guy left who attacks the Saratoga all-media handicapping race the way writers and horseplayers did 20 years ago, and I make no apologies for that. When kids my age were reading Roald Dahl, I was reading Russ Harris. Putting out a quality product matters to me, and that’s not going to change for as long as I do it.

My main rush, though, comes from helping the once-a-year track-goers cash tickets and enjoy themselves at the track. I had a friend tell me once that I cared more about people knowing I was right than actually being right. Heck yes, I do, and it’s because if people know I was right and they bet what I liked, they made money! What rush is better than that?

I said all of that, and went on what seemed like a few meandering tangents, to bring it back to one point: If racing continues to shoot itself in the foot with no plans to convince people it’s fun to come to the track, there may not be once-a-year track-goers anymore.

– – – – –

I still love this game. I love writing about it, I love going on-camera to talk about it, I love reading the form to find an edge, I love betting that edge, and I love being right. I’ll answer questions from people about the sport all day long, if I can, and any sort of ambassadorship I can provide pales in comparison to what horse racing has given me.

That said, I’ve never been confrontational when I meet people who don’t like (or, in some cases, actively hate) horse racing. It’s not going to be everyone’s thing, and that’s okay. Where we find trouble is when we ask ourselves this dangerous, two-part question: How many people have been turned off by issues in racing the past few years, and what can we do to bring them back?

Remember what I said about how much I think I matter? If you think I’m an egotistical maniac, strap in for this one: For all of my flaws (and there are people who will gladly take the time to list all of them), I’m REMARKABLY self-aware. If I took my annual handle (it’s none of your business, but it’s not totally insignificant) and put that money and my content creation efforts into any other relevant field, I know I wouldn’t be missed by racing at large. That isn’t a knock on myself. It’s just a fact.

The same can be said for people I know who have bet considerably more than me and vowed that they’re done with the sport. On their own, one’s individual handle going elsewhere isn’t going to break the game or send shockwaves through the industry. However, if the whales leave, and the medium-sized fish leave, and the small fish leave without laying eggs (in this hypothetical, the eggs represent people introduced to the game and given reasons to be excited about it), what’s left? In that instance, horse racing suddenly turns into yacht racing, where rich people compete for each other’s money and nobody in any other tax bracket cares.

Any changes made are going to take time to implement. Expecting an overnight revolution when the status quo hasn’t been seriously threatened on a national level for decades is irrational, and anyone taking the opportunity to demand such a movement should know that. However, those in the game who think everything is fine and that the sport can police itself are also misguided (not to add yet another tangent, but if the sport could police itself, why did it take the FBI to run Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis out of the industry?).

There need to be constructive, inclusive conversations about how to fix the issues in our game. Women, minorities, and those that haven’t traditionally had prominent seats at that table need to be involved. Bettors and owners need to be respected in equal measure, because the sport doesn’t work without both revenue streams. The words, “but that’s the way we’ve always done it,” should be cause for a public flogging, and anyone with conflicts of interest should be required to leave the room when a close-to-home topic is being discussed.

I don’t know how we get fans back who say they’re done with the game and mean it. We don’t know the official Kentucky Derby winner. We don’t know for sure which trainers are dirty and which ones are clean. We don’t have a concrete plan in place that ensures a Modern Games fiasco doesn’t happen again. Shoot, going back to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, we still don’t have one uniform answer to the question, “what is a foul that merits disqualification?”

What I do know is that doing nothing won’t work.

I’m not asking racing to solve all of those problems instantly. However, here’s a simple prayer from someone who gives a damn about the sport surviving and thriving at all levels: Can’t we at least get the car out of “neutral?”

2021 BREEDERS’ CUP: Day Two Handicapping Analysis (11/6/21)

I’ll start off this column with a disclaimer: If you don’t want to bet Saturday’s races because of the three-ring circus that happened before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, I completely understand. A lot of people got the short end of the stick with what happened, and I couldn’t write anything else before writing something I posted to Twitter late Friday.

If you want to play, though, there’s plenty to digest Saturday at Del Mar. As with Friday’s races, I’ll spend more time on races where I have a strong opinion and less time on races where I don’t. Let’s take a look!

“Champagne and J.D.,” cued up to our analysis of Saturday’s card!

RACE #1: We’ll start things off with an optional claiming event for older horses. I’m not sure which runner will go favored, but #1 ONE FAST BRO would intrigue me a bit if others took money. His lone recent poor race on turf came in a paceless race at Santa Anita, and it sure seems like he’s taken a step forward late in his 4-year-old season. He’s a stone closer that may need some luck breaking on the rail, but Joe Bravo’s riding style should fit him like a glove, and the jockey got to know this gelding a bit last time out, when he ran second behind next-out stakes-winner Subconscious.

RACE #2: The Grade 2 TAA is the annual marathon race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, and I think the morning line is off. Yes, #2 LONE ROCK was beaten last time out as a very heavy favorite, but I can’t see #4 TIZAMAGICIAN challenging him for favoritism. I think Lone Rock comes down from his 6/5 morning line price, and that Tizamagician drifts up.

I focused on that because, handicapping-wise, this looks chalky to me. Lone Rock still looks very imposing, and anything close to his races from mid-2021 would make him very tough to beat.

RACE #3: We start cooking with gas in the Grade 2 Goldikova. I respect 8/5 favorite #2 PRINCESS GRACE, who’s won six of seven career starts and wouldn’t be surprising. However, I think there’s value to that one’s inside.

Instead of the chalk, give me #1 ZOFELLE, whose last race is a clear throw-out. She’s shown she detests Belmont Park and its funky one-mile configuration, and she’s also shown she shines going two turns. Her races from early-2021 are sharp, and while the layoff is a concern, she’s been working steadily for a barn that can get fresh horses ready to run.

Zofelle’s best race can win this, and I think things will set up for her. This race isn’t without some early zip, and the faster they go early, the better this one’s chances figure to be. 6-1 hits me as an overlay, and I hope we get that price (or something close to it) come post time.

RACE #4: Many handicappers detest this race, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. It’s down to a five-horse field, and the likely odds-on favorite, #5 GAMINE, has been in the news several times for the wrong reasons.

However, I think there’s money to be made, as Gamine shouldn’t be alone on the front end. She may be joined by #3 EDGEWAY or #6 BELLA SOFIA, and while she may be good enough to overcome that pressure, I think her likely price is an underlay, and that such a scenario would set things up for #4 CE CE.

Ce Ce didn’t get her desired trip in the Ballerina two starts back. Gamine ran her first quarter-mile in :23 and change, and the race was over at that point. That shouldn’t happen again here, and when Ce Ce gets a pace to run at, she’s very, very good. I wish we were likely to get the 4-1 morning line price, but we’ll probably have to make due with 5/2 or so. Still, she’ll be a single for me on multi-race exotics tickets, and if Gamine loses, the payoff potential on those goes up significantly.

RACE #5: Singling Ce Ce is handy, because the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is a puzzling race. I’ve been a big fan of #3 GOLDEN PAL all year long, and a win here wouldn’t surprise me. However, if the 3-year-old misfires against open company, any number of his rivals could potentially get the money.

#1 GLASS SLIPPERS won this race last year, and her stablemate, #2 EMARAATY ANA, may be even better than she is. Golden Pal’s stablemate, #9 KIMARI, hasn’t run since April, but she’s been working consistently at Keeneland and is a world-class sprinter when she’s right.

The one I’m most intrigued by at a price, though, is #11 FAST BOAT. Closers in turf sprints make me nervous, but Del Mar’s surface was a fair one on Friday, and a few closers did reasonably well. Additionally, he’s capitalized on several meltdowns against these types this season, and a similar situation may present itself here. His best is certainly good enough to win this, and he’ll be on all of my tickets.

RACE #6: #5 LIFE IS GOOD is a single for me in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (TV won’t say the sponsor, but I will because I’m a rebel and play by my own rules). I can’t see him getting challenged early, and if he gets comfortable, I think he’ll coast.

RACE #7: The Filly and Mare Turf will be a blast. I’m pumped to see #7 WAR LIKE GODDESS tackle the likes of #6 LOVE and #8 LOVES ONLY YOU, who ship in from England and Japan for this event. Consider this: #12 AUDARYA is the defending champ in this race, and she’s the 5-1 fourth choice on the morning line!

The top three choices are all world-class talents, and Audarya would merit attention if not for a terrible post draw. However, there’s another that I need to advise you to consider. #1 GOING TO VEGAS did sit a dream trip last time out in winning the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive, but everything says she could sit that trip again here. There just isn’t a lot of early speed signed on to chase her, and if she gets comfortable, I think she’ll have every chance to grab a big piece of this at a very nice price.

RACE #8: Neither of my two opinions in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint should surprise you. The first is that #2 JACKIE’S WARRIOR looks very tough, by any conceivable measure. His figures only seem to be going up, he’s very fast out of the gate, and he’s shown an ability to grind his foes into dust. He’s my top pick.

My other opinion is that #7 LEXITONIAN, a first-ballot inductee into the Andrew Champagne Gambling Hall of Fame, hits the board. Toss the Forego, where he got left at the gate, and toss the Met Mile, which I think is a toss for every horse that ran in it (it was a WEIRD race). His two-back Grade 1 win in the Vanderbilt was sharp, and it also helps that he ran very well in his lone Del Mar start, when he fell by a dirty nose after a big late run in the 2020 Bing Crosby. Lexitonian’s an honest horse that should be going the right way late, and I think he’ll clunk up for a piece of it at a big number.

RACE #9: The Breeders’ Cup Mile is always a blast. Some of my favorite horses (Lure and Wise Dan, to name two) have won this race over the years, and from a handicapping perspective, you can make cases for a bunch of these runners.

I’m spreading in multi-race exotics. #3 SPACE BLUES is a win machine from Europe, and his best race would absolutely put him right there, but he’s stretching out to a mile from seven furlongs, and that’s not insignificant. By contrast, #9 MOTHER EARTH has won at this distance before and ran into Aunt Pearl last fall in her lone stateside start to date. I need to use her, too, especially since she’s run very well over firmer going in the past. Of the American runners, I prefer #6 MO FORZA and #7 IN LOVE, who both come in off of strong wins in prep races a few weeks ago.

RACE #10: The Breeders’ Cup Distaff features #6 LETRUSKA, who enters on a five-race win streak and figures to be one of the day’s heaviest favorites. However, I’m against her in here. I think there’s a lot of other early speed signed on (specifically #7 HOROLOGIST and #8 SHEDARESTHEDEVIL), and I think the race shape could set up for a closer to come from out of the clouds.

With that in mind, I prefer #2 ROYAL FLAG on top. She exits a very nice win in the Beldame at Belmont, where she won by more than four lengths despite a pretty slow early pace. She’s shown an ability to rally from well back in races without much early zip. Given the likelihood of some fast fractions, I think her chances go way up, and 8-1 hits me as an overlay.

Of the front-running types, I prefer #8 SHEDARESTHEDEVIL, who beat Letruska earlier this year and has shown she doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to run well. Given how fast they’ll probably be going, that could prove valuable.

RACE #11: I could wind up having plenty of fun in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. #13 TARNAWA is logical and hasn’t run a bad race in more than two years. She could win this for the second year in a row, but there’s another runner I like at a significantly bigger price.

Toss the Arc de Triomphe, and doesn’t the form of #8 BROOME look a lot better? He’s run plenty of races at this distance that would be good enough to win, and I love the presence of Frankie Dettori, whose record in this race is excellent. The same can be said of trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won this race six times. At his likely price, Broome is a must-use, and he’d be a day-maker for me.

RACE #12: We’ll finish, of course, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I can’t go too in-depth on this, as I’ll have a longer, race-specific writeup available on Oddschecker US. However, I think #5 KNICKS GO will be very tough to beat, and you can head over there for my reasoning and betting strategy.

2021 BREEDERS’ CUP: Day One Handicapping Analysis (11/5/21)

This week’s “Champagne and J.D.,” filmed before news broke about Jack Christopher scratching out of the Juvenile.

It’s Breeders’ Cup time, and I’m going to do things a little bit differently this year. In the past, I’ve written walls of text on every race. This year, I’m going to follow my own advice about being smarter with time and money management.

I’ll still take looks at every race, but I’ll expound far more on ones where I have strong opinions. Friday’s card, for my money, is far more intriguing than Saturday’s, and I’m looking forward to getting things rolling and hopefully setting us up for more success over the weekend. Let’s dive in, shall we?

RACE #1: We’re bringing some firepower right off the bat. #4 TRIPLE TAP is American Pharoah’s younger half-brother, and he’s been on the sidelines since an impressive first-out score in March at Santa Anita. He’s been working very well, and I think he’s well-meant, but I also think the likely race shape may be kind to others. There’s a lot of other speed in this event, and as a result, I’d advise you to use two closers in your exotics tickets.

#2 I’LL STAND TALLER has rounded into form for Doug O’Neill. He’s won two of his last three starts, and the race shape in his most recent effort didn’t set up for a closer. He’s a Cal-bred stepping up into open company, but his connections saw fit to run him in two stakes races earlier this year, and perhaps he’s just getting better as he gets older.

I’ll also get a little crazy and include #8 EL DIABLO ROJO, whose record looks far better if you toss the turf races. I’m not entirely sure why he’s been running on it, since it’s clear he’s better on dirt, and he has back form from early-2021 that would make him dangerous at a price.

RACE #2: I don’t find the Qatar Golden Mile nearly as appealing. Likely favorite #8 READY TO PURRFORM looms large off of an impressive win in a similar spot at Laurel, and the most appealing alternative will be the likely second choice, #3 DEGREE OF RISK. That one exits a decent third in the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine and adds both blinkers and Flavien Prat.

RACE #3: One of my strongest opinions of the undercard is here, in the Golden State Juvenile Fillies. It looks like a fantastic betting race if you have one of those, and I like a runner enough to single her in multi-race exotics.

#9 VIVACIOUS VANESSA ran exceptionally well in her debut. Gary Mandella’s first-time starters aren’t usually fully-cranked, and going two turns at first asking isn’t easy to do. However, she broke slowly, uncorked a big rally, and won going away. The fast pace did help her that day, but that’s not the kind of effort that can simply be chalked up to a race falling apart.

Vivacious Vanessa goes turf to dirt here, and the dirt works tell me she’ll take to the new surface just fine. I think there’s plenty of pace signed on to set up for the way she wants to run, and if she wins, it’ll provide a nice stake for the rest of the weekend.

RACE #4: The Ken Maddy is a grass grab bag with a 10-horse field, and many of these fillies and mares have shown plenty of talent. #8 SUPERSTITION loves Del Mar and doesn’t need the lead, which are both good things. She’s not a bad favorite, but she also doesn’t tower over this group, and I think there are two others worthy of consideration.

#1 HEAR MY PRAYER is probably my other “A horse” in multi-race exotics. She’s run just once since February, but that was a winning effort at this route, and she’s been training lights-out at Santa Anita ahead of this event. Given the layoff lines, it’s safe to assume she’s had her issues, but when she’s right, she’s very fast.

I’ll also have some saver tickets with #5 TIME LIMIT, who gets a significant class test but hasn’t run a poor race on turf. She’s got plenty of early zip, but showed she can rate a bit in two wins at Saratoga. One of those wins was over a very good turf sprinter named Risky Mischief, who’s run some fast races and wouldn’t have been out-of-place in this race. Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride for Mike Maker, and we’ll likely be assured a square price on a very nice horse.

RACE #5: The brother race to the third event of the day, the Golden State Juvenile for 2-year-old colts has drawn another big field. I do have a lean here, and while it’s not strong enough to single the horse on all tickets, it’s probably a “lone A” situation.

#11 SLOW DOWN ANDY won his debut like a very good horse. He cruised home clear by nearly five lengths, and that day’s runner-up (#10 MOOSE MITCHELL) came right back to win at next asking. Doug O’Neill’s first-time starters aren’t always fully-cranked, but when this barn gets horses on the right track, they tend to stay there. I don’t know if we’ll get 5-1, but I also don’t think he’ll be favored, so we should get a little bit of value.

If Slow Down Andy doesn’t win, I’m not quite sure who does. #1 JOKER BOY will likely be favored, but I just don’t think he beat much in his two wins earlier this year. The bigger price that intrigues me is #4 BILLY’S BET, who led at every call in a five-furlong turf sprint and gets a big class test for a small barn. For a 2-year-old sprint, there isn’t a metric ton of early speed signed on, so maybe he’ll get comfortable and give the field something to think about turning for home.

RACE #6: And now we punch the accelerator, because this is the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint has attracted plenty of speedy, precocious 2-year-olds that will go five furlongs. Traditionally in these races, speed is king, but there’s so much of it signed on that I need to back a closer, and there’s one in here I really like.

#7 ARMOR had nowhere to go most of the way last time out in a Group 1. Still, once he finally got a seam, he finished very nicely and was beaten less than a length by multiple Group 1 winner Perfect Power. Perfect Power would almost certainly be favored in this spot had he shipped over, so it’s tough to see a narrow loss to that rival as a bad thing.

Between his back class and the likely race shape, I think there’s a ton to like here. I don’t think we’ll get the 6-1 morning line, but 9/2 and up would hit me as a pretty fair value. If you’re looking for a closer at an even bigger price, #11 DERRYNANE’s two-back clunker over a boggy turf course is a total throw-out. Her score at Woodbine was excellent, and while the post is awful, she’s got enough talent to where I’ll still be alive on a few tickets if she pops at a price. Having said that, Armor is the heavier lean.

RACE #7: It stinks that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies only drew six horses. Having said that, it’s headed by the flashy #6 ECHO ZULU, who’s 3-for-3 and has never been truly tested.

On one hand, I’m not crazy about betting a horse, as the favorite, doing something it’s never done before (hi, Harvey Pack!). On the other, she’s bred up and down to get better as the distances get longer. She’s by Gun Runner, out of a Menifee mare, and sure looks like the controlling speed. This race won’t get much of my money, as I think the favorite is legitimate and the field size is too short for vertical exotics to pay much.

RACE #8: I’ve got a play here in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. I don’t think there’s much in the way of early speed signed on, and I think a filly stretching out in distance for a top-class barn will sit an ideal trip.

#5 BUBBLE ROCK broke her maiden like a very good horse two starts ago at Saratoga. She finished powerfully, which is no shock since she’s bred to go much longer than that 5 1/2-furlong route. She’s since added a win in the Matron, and while that was more workmanlike than I anticipated, I think it’s entirely possible she just bounced off of her big performance prior to that. She’s shown sprinter speed, and she’s bred to go two turns. Her second dam is a multiple stakes-winner going two turns, and her dam is a half to Blue Chipper, who ran third in the Dirt Mile a few years ago.

Maybe Bubble Rock turns out to just be a sprinter, or maybe she peaked too early in the season. However, at her 8-1 morning line price, I’ll absolutely pay to find out. She’ll be a “separator single” for me on at least a few of my tickets, and while I respect the likes of #11 HAUGHTY and #13 MISE EN SCENE, Bubble Rock would be a day-maker if she runs like I think she can.

RACE #9: I was looking forward to this race a lot more before the scratch of #1 JACK CHRISTOPHER. I didn’t like him, I thought he was a beatable favorite, and I thought his presence would help set things up for a closer.

Now that he’s out, I don’t know what to think. Bob Baffert has three runners in here, including #12 CORNICHE, who will likely assume the favorite’s role. I actually think #9 PINEHURST has some appeal given his two-turn pedigree and a recent stretch of excellent workouts, but he hasn’t yet shown that he can rate.

I’ll use both of those as well as a pair of runners from the Todd Pletcher barn. #10 COMMANDPERFORMANCE sure seems like a wise guy horse, given how many people on horse racing Twitter seem to love him, but there’s no doubt he made up a lot of ground in the Champagne. I’m also intrigued by #5 DOUBLE THUNDER, who’s bred to run all day and has been taking steps forward with each start. These two would benefit from a pace meltdown, as well as a scenario where the Baffert runners just aren’t that special.

RACE #10: In my opinion, they saved the most puzzling Breeders’ Cup race for last. The Juvenile Turf features several well-meant runners from Europe, and those would be my two “A horses,” but there are two Americans that intrigue me a bit, too.

Charles Appleby has a very powerful hand here. He trains #1 MODERN GAMES and #2 ALBAHR, and they’ve combined to win seven of 10 races with just one off-the-board finish (Modern Games was fifth in his debut). Neither would surprise me, though I’d probably give the slight edge to Modern Games, whose Group 3 win at Newmarket last time out was excellent.

Of the Americans, I prefer #4 TIZ THE BOMB, who has won three straight and has shown some versatility in his two recent stakes wins. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was fairly close to a soft pace, which might be set by the other horse I have my eye on, #10 PORTFOLIO COMPANY. I’m not crazy about him having set a very slow pace last time and still getting beat, but I think he’ll be the controlling early speed in here, and the presence of Flavien Prat is encouraging.

For Norm Macdonald

Earlier this month, I went to a wedding and saw a bunch of people I hadn’t seen for 3 1/2 years. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was a regular at Tompkins Square, an old-school bar near Loyola Marymount with a weekly trivia night (for a brief time, it was two, until your fearless scribe killed the sports game by winning enough that nobody else showed up). I started going with a friend who got married in Mammoth Lakes a few weeks ago, and in turn made several new friends I hadn’t seen since moving to Northern California in early-2018.

That intro had a purpose, trust me. Also at those trivia nights, sitting in a corner booth with a small circle of friends and fellow trivia competitors, was Norm Macdonald. LA is full of random celebrity sightings, so seeing the former “Weekend Update” host indulging an urge for friendly competition wasn’t anything too unusual.

What WAS unusual was how accessible he was, to everyone. He’d hang around after the games and chat with anyone about anything. He wasn’t the former SNL cast member, or the guy who headlined stand-up shows everywhere in the world. He was just Norm.

We had a few really good conversations, especially once he realized I worked in horse racing. One of the first things he brought up was the story of Sylvester Carmouche, who famously hid in the fog at Delta Downs and came out of it a city block clear of the rest of the field. It was funny, and our conversation was interrupted a few times by cheers at the nearby television. There was an NBA game going on, and he had the “over.”

“Norm’s a great guy who’s very approachable and has a significant gambling itch,” I’d tell friends and family members. “In other words, he’s my kind of human being.”

Well, he was. Norm passed away Tuesday morning after a nine-year battle with cancer very few people knew about.

I’m not going to pretend we were super close. We saw each other once a week for about two and a half years. After I moved, we still followed each other on Twitter and we exchanged direct messages a few times. We briefly talked about working on a book together, and while I’m not sure Norm was totally serious, it sure made my day when he brought it up.

Time passes way too fast. Many of my friends from Tompkins Square moved to Alaska. The bar closed not long after I moved, the longtime trivia host passed away in early-2020, and other than a few very brief trips (most recently for a funeral in late-2018), I haven’t been back to Los Angeles.

I didn’t see Norm in-person between when I moved and when he died. I certainly never knew he was sick.

A lot of people have their memories of Norm as a comedian, and for good reason. Much of his stuff stands the test of time, including his recent work for Netflix (which, as we now know, came when he was fighting a secret battle with cancer). This tribute wouldn’t be complete without a video of my favorite bit of his, so here you go.

All of that being said, though, I won’t remember Norm, the comedian. I’ll remember Norm, the person, who was incredibly kind to many people when he didn’t have to be.

I remember one night after trivia, everyone congregated by the bar. Someone walked up to Norm and asked if he wanted to play golf that Friday at Westchester, a golf course just down the road. Norm paused, and looked genuinely downtrodden as he responded.

“I don’t think I can,” he said. “I think I’m in New York with Sandler.”

Norm Macdonald was a kind, gentle, decent man, and the world’s a lesser place without him in it. Some trivia bar in the sky somewhere, though, got itself a heck of a competitor and someone who’ll hang around to watch whatever game is on the big screen.

Rest in peace, Norm. We’ll miss you.